Blue Note had a thing for visionary composer/pianists like Thelonious Monk in the 1940s and Andrew Hill in the '60s. The great one in between was Herbie Nichols, unheralded in his time, but posthumously celebrated as a brilliantly original jazz composer, owing to his earworm melodies, tricky trap-door harmonic progressions, and tunes that gave creative drummers — Max Roach and Art Blakey here — plenty of solo breaks and elbow room. Nichols's improvisations rarely wandered too far from the melody, even as his murmuring, odd or atmospheric harmonies nibbled at the edges of a tune. He wrote some great ones; no accident so many musicians play them now. Nichols loved music-making as a musical subject: a built-in stumble on "The Gig" mocks a pick-up band sight-reading a tricky phrase; he depicts a loud audience competing/blending with the music in "Chit-Chatting," and student pianists breaking training on "Blue Chopsticks." Try him, you'll be hooked.
By Kevin Whitehead on 04.20.10 in Spotlights
Ask a jazz fan about Herbie Nichols, and the reaction is likely to be either, "He's a genius," or "Who?" The pianist and composer is the paradigm of a genius neglected in his own time. Nichols's classic mid-'50s sides fo...
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